Predicting the Packers Draft: Running Back

Predicting the Packers Draft: Running Back

The Packers need at least one more running back. The depth chart says as much, Mike McCarthy has all but declared the Packers are in the market for a ball carrier.

Exactly when the Packers will acquire a running back between now and the start of the 2017 season is less clear, although McCarthy’s remarks do lead us to believe it will be in the draft or immediately thereafter.

So what kind of running back will the Packers get? Turns out, the answer is pretty specific.

What do the Packers look for in the draft at running back?

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It’s a little counterintuitive, but the Packers have an established tendency to draft bigger backs. The average height and weight of a back drafted by the Packers is significantly larger than the league average. Only two backs drafted by the Packers weighed less than 218 pounds at the combine.

The Packers also expect their backs to be able to move their mass quickly, as evidenced by their average 40, three cone, and shuttle times.

What’s the best round to select a running back?

Running back is the near polar opposite of quarterback: there’s basically no reason to ever draft one in the first round. Stars like Ezekiel Elliot and Todd Gurley are exceptions, but on average, the performance of a fourth or even fifth round running back is not all that different from that of a first round running back.

The Packers’ strategy with free agents comes into play here as well, as they tend to avoid drafting running backs late and instead choose to bring in volume via undrafted free agents.

2016 Pro Football Focus grades by round selected - RB

What rounds have the Packers drafted running backs?

Highest pick: Eddie Lacy, 2013
The Packers took Lacy with the 61st pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the highest selection of a running back in the Ted Thompson era.

Biggest disappointment: Johnathan Franklin, 2013
Franklin was supposed to be the slashing counterpart to Lacy, but his career ended after just one season due to a neck injury.

Best value: Eddie Lacy, 2013
Lacy was projected as a possible first round pick, and for the Packers to snag him late in the second round proved to be a great value, despite his departure from Green Bay after just four seasons.

Who might the Packers draft at running back?

The Packers should have options through the middle of the draft if they choose to go that route. Early on, Dalvin Cook fits what they like from running backs a little bit better than Christian McCaffrey, but he’s not expected to be available.

Both Marlon Mack and Brian Hill exhibit the exact tendencies we’d expect from a Packers draft pick. Chris Carson could be worth a flier as a late round pick.

High-end running backs

  • Dalvin Cook - Florida State
  • Christian McCaffrey - Stanford

Of these two, Cook is the better fit purely in terms of a physical profile. Cook led all draft eligible running backs in missed tackles (92) and in yards after contact (4.19).

What may hurt Cook's chances of landing in Green Bay is his struggles in pass blocking, where McCaffrey holds a strategic edge.

Mid-round running backs

  • Marlon Mack - South Florida
  • Brian Hill - Wyoming

There’s plenty of quality to be had at running back even near the middle of the draft, and if that’s where the Packers want to get one, Brian Hill could be the guy. 

Mack is in the top 15 of all draft eligible running backs in an intriguing statistic from Pro Football Focus – elusive rating – that measures how good a running back is at making things happen when it's completely up to them. 

Late-round or undrafted running backs

  • Chris Carson - Oklahoma State
  • De’Veon Smith - Michigan

Talent is available late in the draft should the Packers choose to try to bring in someone later. According to Pro Football Focus, Chris Carson has the highest elusive rating of all running backs in the draft, meaning he was the most productive when he got the least help from his blockers.

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